Ian Hooper is an Interaction Designer in our Media & Entertainment division. Ian is working with Autodesk Labs Marketing Manager, Amanda Collins, on an exhibit for our Discovery Space at Autodesk University this year. Ian filed this report for my blog. Much like mixing chemicals in a laboratory, this involves a mix of architecture, movies, and games.
Inspired by the poetic depth he observed in building design, Goethe is said to have called architecture “frozen music.” Can today’s architects unlock the symphony of our built environment and make our designs sing for us?
That is the problem for many architects today. In the same way that trained musicians can read sheet music and hear the song in their minds, architects can visualize 3D form in their minds. This can be a challenge for the rest of us, and so architects must devote a large portion of their time preparing presentations that will decode their designs for their clients.
When we started to investigate a new way for architects to communicate their designs, we looked to video games and movies for inspiration. The great power of movies, and more recently video games, is the ability to tell a story. Cinema has developed a number of conventions over the last century to facilitate concise and emotional narratives. We wanted to give these cinematic tools to every architect.
While many architecture firms are already taking advantage of Hollywood tools, such as Autodesk Maya or Autodesk 3ds Max, we understood that there was a need for a casual story-making tool. We saw how the new ‘ease-of-use’ paradigm in consumer gaming has opened up the market to new gamers for the first time. We knew that we needed something to become a casual use application for architects: something they could pick up and use with little or no training.
Thus was born the concept of something we are referring to as Project Newport. We coupled a graphical, direct-manipulation interface with a feature set that is task-oriented and easy to learn; however, for those users who are new to 3D, just moving around in the scene can be a challenge. To solve the problem of 3D exploration we adopted a three-pronged approach:
Accommodate conventions used in 3D video games, so that people with this experience would feel right at home (W-A-S-D keys for movement and mouse for looking) .
Utilize Autodesk’s standard, easy-to-use 3D controls (the ViewCube and SteeringWheels).
Encourage the use of specialized controllers and gestural input (e.g., joysticks).
This last point recognizes another parallel between the video game world and Project Newport. The Nintendo Wii is changing our definition of a successful game console. It has done this by catering to as large a group of gamers as possible, using an intuitive gesture-based control with easy to learn, engaging games instead of the traditional consoles that favor complexity and experience. Often the way to reduce complexity is to make a tool more specialized: a hammer does one type of activity, a saw does another. A mouse and keyboard are excellent general purpose devices, but for navigating a 3D scene, a game controller is a more specialized and appropriate tool. By supporting the use of devices like the Wii remote, Project Newport offers a natural interface to 3D navigation.
In the future, architects will create more accessible presentations using the language of the cinema without needing to be a Hollywood effects specialist. With Autodesk making designer’s presentation tools easier, architects will finally be able to unlock the music of their designs for the rest of us. It will be music to our eyes.
Project Newport is an Autodesk research project focused on architectural visualization and presentation technology. Learn more about Project Newport at Autodesk University 2008.